A River Rather Than a Road

The Community Choir as Spiritual Experience

by Sarah Morgan (Author) June Boyce-Tillman (Author)
Monographs 184 Pages
Series: Music and Spirituality, Volume 3


This book is an auto-ethnographic account of the development of a charismatic community choir leader. It brings together management literature and a survey of the community choir scene with the development of community choir leadership. It provides a useful introduction to the sustaining of community choirs, including the use of English folksong
material in this context. Some useful arrangements of folk songs are included. Community singing events are described with helpful advice on setting up and managing these. It presents a useful model of the range of skills necessary for aspiring community choir leaders. This is linked with the formation of a community that contains spiritual elements; this is theorized in relation to the role of the parish church in communal singing. It also discusses the two aesthetics of choral singing and the relationship between oral and literate traditions. The book arises from the engagement of the University of Winchester in partnership with the local community, which is theorized.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Praise for A River Rather Than a Road
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures and Tables
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Prelude: The Community Choir as Spiritual Experience
  • 1 Surveying the Field
  • 2 The Community Choir Movement
  • 3 Leadership and Influence
  • 4 English Folk Songs for Choirs
  • 5 Conclusion
  • Postlude: The Community Choir and the Contemporary Spiritual Search
  • Appendix: Professional Doctorate by Contribution to Practice
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

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Figures and Tables

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This book owes a great deal to so many people. If Sarah were alive she would want to acknowledge her debt to all the people who have sung with her over her rich life. These are now drawn together in the Sarah Morgan Foundation.1 The Foundation has been particularly supportive of this book, especially Susanna Starling. I am very grateful to Sarah for the opening up of this world for me over our period of association as supervisor and student as well as collaborators in numerous musical projects. My co-supervisor was Professor Sandra Drower, and the Head of Research in the Faculty of Arts, Professor Inga Bryden, and the three examiners – Dr Peter Critten, Dr Olu Taiwo and Professor Ian Russell – helped me refine this.

In the production of this book I am grateful to Hannah Ward for her proofreading skills and to my personal assistant, Charlotte Osman. The University of Winchester provided research support; my colleagues Professor Elizabeth Stuart, Professor Joy Carter and Professor Simon Jobson have supported my work in a variety of ways. At North West University, South Africa, I am grateful to Hetta Potgieter, Liesl van der Merwe and Dirkie Nell for their continued encouragement and opportunities to share my work. Many friends have helped and encouraged me along the way, especially the Revd Wilma Roest, the Revd Bill Scott, the Revd David Page, Sue Lawes, Dr Carol Boulter, Ianthe Pratt and Myra Poole. I am very grateful to Lucy Melville at Peter Lang for her encouragement in setting up the series Music and Spirituality, in which this book sits.

I am grateful to my two sons, Matthew and Richard, and my granddaughter Scarlett for their continued encouragement of my creative enterprises.

The Revd Dr June Boyce-Tillman MBE FRSA, FHEA, Professor of Applied Music, Artistic Convenor for the Centre for the Arts as Wellbeing and the Tavener Centre for Music and Spirituality, University of Winchester; and Extraordinary Professor, North-West University, South Africa.

1 <https://www.facebook.com/sarahmorganfoundation/timeline>.

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This book is an exploration of English community choirs, their music and their leadership from a very personal perspective, which brings together Sarah Morgan’s background as a folk musician, her career in training and facilitation, and her developing understanding of the world of the choir. Much of this book was originally submitted for a Professional Doctorate at the University of Winchester. Sadly, Sarah died before completing the degree. She was awarded the qualification posthumously. The submission for this qualification involved a context statement and a box of evidence (see the Appendix). The Sarah Morgan Foundation was concerned that her significant contribution to the field was made available to the wider public. As her Director of Studies at the university I have edited her context statement for this publication without the box of evidence (which is available at the University of Winchester). Chapters 2, 3 and 4 are exactly as Sarah wrote them. The Prelude and Postlude are mine and set out a frame for seeing the community choir as spiritual experience based on inclusion, the valuing of diversity and commitment to the musicality of everyone; it is seen as replacing in some ways the communal singing that characterized parish worship when most of a community attended church regularly. Chapter 1 is slightly adapted and Chapter 5 is completely my work as editor, as it was left only in draft at Sarah’s death. In the Prelude, Postlude and Chapter 5 the first person referred to is June Boyce-Tillman, but the first person for the other chapters is Sarah Morgan, which is the way that the original statement was written, reflecting Sarah’s own particular and inspiring story. In the chapters that Sarah wrote so close to her death a number of page references are missing which it has not been possible to find – they have been marked with an asterisk in the text. There is reference in these to the second song leaders’ course that she hoped to run but sadly was not able to. The literature upon which this book draws is hugely diverse, drawing on ← 1 | 2 → musicology, music therapy, community arts, spirituality, philosophy, theology, sociology and education. It is a cross-disciplinary or trans-disciplinary book and looks at the phenomenon of the community choir through a number of lenses associated with spirituality, in a way that draws on the methodology of crystallization (Ellingson 2008, 2009). So this is a review of Sarah Morgan’s work in many fields, leading to her achievement of the position of a highly regarded performer, choir leader, arranger and trainer. It is the story of a journey that I hope will inform other people’s journeys in this area.

The Revd Dr June Boyce-Tillman MBE.

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ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (August)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2016. X, 184 pp., 9 b/w ill., 2 tables

Biographical notes

Sarah Morgan (Author) June Boyce-Tillman (Author)

Sarah Morgan DProf, who died from cancer aged sixty-five in 2013, was a linchpin of the English traditional folk scene. She was born in Epsom, Surrey, into an RAF family and worked in teaching, horse-riding instruction, youth training and management training. She founded community choirs in Winchester and Andover with English folk music at the heart of their repertoires – including many of her own arrangements. This book is based on her professional doctorate, which was awarded to her posthumously by the University of Winchester. Material from it was presented at Cecil Sharp House in London, the headquarters of the English Folk Dance and Song Society. June Boyce-Tillman MBE has published widely in the area of music and education, and her doctoral research into children’s musical development has been translated into five languages. She is a hymn writer and has written on music, healing, theology and spirituality; she is the artistic convenor of the Winchester Centre for the Arts as Wellbeing and the Tavener Centre for Music and Spirituality. She is Extraordinary Professor at North–West University, South Africa. She is an ordained Anglican priest and honorary chaplain to Winchester Cathedral.


Title: A River Rather Than a Road